The world is a beautiful place, inhabited by beautiful creatures ☺. But there’s a whole lot of unbeautiful imbalance going on ☹.
A year ago, today, on my 40th birthday, I announced that I was starting Masawa, the mental wellness impact fund. So what’s been happening this last year?
Most exciting is that we have brought together an impressive group of people (now a full team and advisory board!), raised some money, and are making our first investments. More significantly, we’ve done a lot of learning, testing our assumptions, and crafting a structure that aligns to our values as an organization dedicated to using capital to address the mental health pandemic. A few key things have stood out:
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, which has brought more attention to this largely stigmatized and under-budgeted dilemma, depression was the leading cause of disability worldwide + mental illness was poised to cost the global economy $16T in lost productivity cumulatively by 2030. This year swiftly brought this to the front of everyone’s awareness.
Encouragingly, the number of scientifically-backed approaches + corresponding private sector innovations, are quickly increasing. It is thus the perfect time for Masawa to invest in teams transforming mental wellness, while nurturing that capital to ensure maximum impact, internally (org health) and externally (financial + social returns).
Start-up capital, a needed accelerant for increased innovation and social change, is inefficiently and expensively deployed and measured. (Frankly, the entire economic system needs a fundamental overhaul. But baby steps). In the start-up market, investor competition and an exclusive focus on financial returns are caustic to founder mental wellbeing – 2x depression rates, 2x suicidal ideation. How this isn’t seen as a risk to success (even just financial) is shocking.
Moreover, capital is still not being leveraged in a transformational way, one that recognizes the world as complex and adaptive, embeds systems-thinking in the investment life-cycle, and nests financial power synergistically among non-investable components.
Seemingly intractable existential problems like rapid climate change, biodiversity loss, economic inequality, deep seeded historical social injustice, as well as increased polarization and radicalization, stem from a society that is fundamentally mentally unwell.
Ours is a society driven by a fear of scarcity expressed through over-consumerism, a lack of safety making us retreat from and other that which we do not know or understand, and a need to be seen that leads us to hunger for power over others and cling to it at all costs.
We need to return to basics: to first and foremost check in with ourselves and make friends with what we find. To be open, honest, genuine, and imperfect, while equally valuing the same in every other being we encounter. This also means recognizing that our own prosperity and well-being does not – cannot not! – come at the expense of someone else’s. Quite the opposite.
This is why so much of our focus, both within Masawa and with the investees that we will support, centers on making sure founders, and founding teams are putting in the work to be mentally healthy themselves. Only with that grounding, can successful and resilient businesses grow, that are equipped to take on the problems of this lifetime and have lasting impact.
In closing, here’s a poem I wrote as part of the Shuttleworth Foundation application, in response to the question “What change do you want to make in the world?”:
In ten years…
We talk openly about mental illness
with a refreshing, joyful, happy willingness.
My depression and anxiety isn’t seen
as any different than a sprained leg or COVID-19.
Life made whole, much more enjoyable
by a surplus of innovation and proven explorables
like mindfulness, nutrition, gene therapies
software, hardware, AI, entheogens.
My company is measured by the lives it embetters,
not only by profits or its ability to repay debtors.
My investors believe that my mental wellbeing
is paramount for creating the changes we’re seeing.
New incentives to cooperate openly with competitors
has completely shut out the financial predators
who now find it difficult to maintain their cause
of single-focused greed and avarice without pause.
Innovations abound in function not just form
those like convertible grants, reverse bonds are the norm.
Success based on birth location is not left to chance
the system cares for all through regenerative finance.
Climate repair, economic justice, and social equality
are trending topics on everyone’s wall you see:
we address hard topics as communities, immersed,
because we are now okay with ourselves, first.
But life is not only about finding happiness,
it’s about appreciating that struggle is also bliss.
I am enough. I lead with vulnerability
open to my humanness, content with humanity.
…balance is repowered.
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